10 Ancient Lost Cities of the Middle East

hattusa-lost-city (Image: Sr. Samolo, cc-nc-nd-4.0)

The Middle East is where the Western world began. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, writing and number systems all first reared their heads on the fertile plains around Ancient Mesopotamia. For centuries, the region was known as the “cradle of civilisation”. Yet huge swathes of this historically-important world were lost for centuries. Entire regions, cities and cultures have winked out of history, leaving only the faintest traces.

Ai (Canaan)

ai-canaan (Image: Gustav Dore, public domain)

Seeped in blood and overflowing with violence, the Biblical Book of Joshua is an account of the wars waged by the Israelites through Ancient Canaan. Famously, this includes the siege of Jericho. But there’s one other city the author specifically mentions by name: the long-lost royal city of Ai.

Supposedly a thriving religious centre, Ai is recorded as the second Canaanite city to fall under Joshua’s sword. The Biblical narrative makes it emphatically clear that the place was burned to the ground and all its inhabitants slaughtered. However, modern attempts to find the ‘real’ Ai have come up lacking. The most-likely candidate – a site known as Et-Tell – shows no sign of a violent end, and is generally thought to have been abandoned hundreds of years before the time of Joshua.

ai-israelites (Image: Morgan Bible, public domain)

It’s currently thought that the Biblical account is a fictional take on the causes of the Et-Tell ruins (Ai means ‘ruin’ in Hebrew). Unless a more-plausible candidate is unearthed, it may be that Biblical Ai never really existed in the first place.

 
 


 
 
 

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